Celtics

Skills coach provides encouraging update on Jayson Tatum

Skills coach provides encouraging update on Jayson Tatum

Although Jayson Tatum's basic stats stayed largely the same as his rookie season in 2018-19, many fans were disappointed he didn't take more of a leap in his sophomore year. Even worse, the memory of training with Kobe Bryant in the offseason stung each time Tatum settled for a contested midrange jump shot instead of taking the ball strong to the basket. 

His free throw attempts per game dropped from 3.2 to a paltry 2.9, and he attempted nearly as many midrange shots (276) as three-pointers (311). But this summer, it appears Tatum is trying to break some of those bad habits with skills coach Drew Hanlen. 

"Driving and getting downhill through contact and being able to finish around the rim is our No. 1 focus,” Hanlen told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. “And then consistency when he’s shooting off the dribble or off a full-speed move from the 3-point line. Those are our two things, just getting to the rim and drawing fouls, and finishing when you do get to the rim, and then consistency with threes. We just want him to be more efficient, and we think he will be. He’s as locked in as I’ve ever seen him."

With Hanlen, Tatum is going through drills where he isn't allowed to shoot midrange shots. Hanlen believes Tatum "settled too much" last year, but now is "starting to kind of realize" when to pull up for two and when to attack the rim and draw contact. Instead of fading away from contact, Hanlen wants him to embrace contact and power through it.  

"He’s very, very locked in," Hanlen added.

That's music to Celtics fans ears. 

Tatum should have a larger role in the offense this season with the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, and he recently predicted he'd make his first All-Star team this year. To elevate his game, he'll likely have to cut back on long twos while earning more foul shots and increasing his efficiency at the rim. 

Additionally, this isn't the first time Tatum has trained with Hanlen. Last year, Hanlen flew to Boston to help Tatum get out of a shooting slump. Hanlen's other clients include Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal. 

Hanlen also revealed to the Globe that he's been working with forward Semi Ojeleye and Summer League cult hero Tacko Fall. The skills coach said wrist flexibility issues have held back Ojeleye's jumper in the past, and they're working on adding more arc to his shot. With Fall, Hanlen has begun tweaking his free throw shot. Fall shot 43% from the stripe at UCF. Hanlen also plans to pit Fall against his other client, Joel Embiid.

But the biggest news is Tatum working with Hanlen — not Kobe — on the right things. 

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Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

It was three years ago that the fireworks that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had previously talked about (and we absolutely loved to talk about over and over and over again), actually came to fruition for the Celtics. 

That's when Boston did what no Celtics team under Danny Ainge’s watch had ever done. 

They went out and signed an All-Star free agent, then-27-year-old Gordon Hayward, who was still in his prime as a player. 

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“I can’t believe it’s been three years already, to be honest,” Hayward said during a teleconference call with reporters on Friday. “A lot has happened for me, for my family.”

It is impossible to look at the Hayward narrative in Boston without delving into the gruesome left leg injury he suffered just five minutes into this first game as a Boston Celtic. 

Once he was cleared to resume playing, there was the usual rust associated with a long layover. But more than the time off, Hayward had hurdles to clear beyond being physically able to return to play. 

For most of his career, Hayward leaned on his basketball instincts when it came to making plays at both ends of the floor. 

The injury changed that. 

Hayward had developed the kind of muscle memory with his game that allowed him to ascend to an All-Star level while in Utah, with play that on many nights looked seemingly effortless. The injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, forced him to work at bridging the divide that now existed between his mind and body as far as what he was capable of doing on the court.

It wasn’t all that surprising that it led to mixed results, with Hayward looking like the best player on the floor some nights and then inexplicably struggling against inferior competition the next. 

And just like fans at times would become frustrated with his inconsistent play, Hayward wasn’t enjoying this rollercoaster of emotions fueled by his up-and-down play either. 

The 6-foot-8 forward has spent his entire basketball career working to strengthen his body to withstand the physical rigors that come with being a slashing, attacking-the-rim wing who can also make teams pay for sagging off him with a mid-range game that can extend beyond the 3-point line. 

But the injury forced Hayward to really work at strengthening his mind, something that he quickly acknowledged as being the biggest takeaway from his time thus far in Boston. 

“For sure I hit a low during my injury,” Hayward said. “And had to work more than ever on that mental side, more than I ever had in my basketball career on that mental side. That’s for sure something that takes work.”

The topic of mental health among professional athletes has gained significant traction in recent years as a discussion which professional players such as Hayward are far more comfortable addressing publicly. 

“For sure the mental side is where I’ve grown,” he said.

And that growth has Hayward in arguably the best position he has been in as a Celtic. 

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While he was initially brought in to be either the team’s go-to guy or next in line, Hayward has effectively settled into more of a jack-of-all-trades role, allowing him to make an impact of significance without necessarily having to carry the team on a night-in, night-out basis. 

He’s averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, his best numbers in those categories since becoming a Celtic. 

Just as impressive has been his efficiency — he's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range this season.

And while he’ll be the first to tell you that his time in Boston has indeed been a rollercoaster of sorts, he has no regrets about his decision to become a Celtic which reunited him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

“It’s been some great moments for sure,” Hayward said of his time in Boston. “Obviously some not-great moments with the injury and everything but some great moments. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

How Pacers star Victor Oladipo skipping NBA restart impacts Celtics

How Pacers star Victor Oladipo skipping NBA restart impacts Celtics

The Indiana Pacers' best player won't participate in the NBA's restart in Florida later this month.

The 2019-20 season is set to resume at Walt Disney World Resort, where 22 teams will play eight seeding games before a normal four-round playoffs with eight teams in each conference is played. 

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The Pacers are one of the nine Eastern Conference teams participating in the restart, and in an interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic, Oladipo explained his decision not to go to Orlando.

“I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo said, per Charania. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing. I have to be smart and this decision hasn’t been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me.”

The Celtics and Pacers are not scheduled to play each other in the seeding games phase, which begins July 30. So, how could Oladipo's absence impact Boston? Let's break it down.

Playoff seeding
The Celtics will enter the restart as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 43-21 record. The Pacers are 39-26 and 4.5 games behind the C's. Indiana played well without Oladipo this season, but it's hard to envision a scenario where it doesn't fall to the No. 6 seed during the eight seeding games format. The Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are tied for the No. 5 seed, and a healthy Sixers team bolstered by the return of All-Star point guard Ben Simmons should finish ahead of Indiana going into the playoffs. The Miami Heat are fourth in the East standings and have a two-game lead on the Pacers. Unless the Heat collapse, they should be able to hold the No. 4 seed. 

Therefore, it's very possible we could see a Celtics vs. Pacers first-round series in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup. In fact, most projection models have the Celtics and Pacers squaring off in Round 1.

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Playoff matchup
The Celtics and Pacers played in the first round last season and Boston swept Indiana in four games. It wouldn't be surprising if the same scenario unfolded in 2020. The Celtics are a deeper and more talented team. They are actually the only club with three players averaging 20 or more points per game. The Pacers have zero players averaging 20-plus points. Boston also ranks higher than Indiana in points scored per, points allowed per game, rebounds per game, steals per game and blocks per game. The Pacers, when Oladipo is unavailable, don't have a go-to scorer who can create his own shot late in games. In the last game the Celtics played before COVID-19 halted the season, they beat the Pacers 114-111 in Indiana. The Pacers nearly pulled off the win late, and Oladipo scored 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting (5-for-7 from 3-point range).

In the overall playoff picture, it's so important for the Celtics to at least finish with the No. 3 seed. This could set up the easiest possible path to the NBA Finals. The Celtics wouldn't have to play the first-place Milwaukee Bucks until the conference finals if they finished as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. A path to the conference finals that includes a Pacers team without Oladipo in the first round and a tough-but-winnable second-round matchup against the Toronto Raptors is a favorable one for Boston. It's a much better route than having to play the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1 in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup and then see the Bucks in Round 2.